Live from City Hall: Complete Streets, Bike Plans & Better Blocks. An Unfair Park Best-Of!

theresaodonnell.jpg
Theresa O'Donnell, director of Sustainable Development and Construction
Welcome to City Hall, where nothing seems to have changed too drastically since Mayor Dwaine Caraway took the reins over the weekend.

Any doubts you might have had should be assuaged by item number one on this afternoon's agenda at the Transportation and Environment Committee briefing, where, as Robert told you earlier, the city's picked a cast of the usual suspects will be heading up the Complete Streets Initiative.

Peer Chacko is running through that briefing now, even as Jason Roberts and Andrew Howard wait in the wings to run through the bike plan, speaking in big, sweeping terms about what Complete Streets will mean to the city.

"We are really trying to make a huge shift in the way we do design in the City of Dallas," he says, saying it'll take a "big institutional shift" in the way we think about planning and transportation. He says they're working with a budget of $795,000 for the plan, and says they've put together "a dream team" for the initiative, led by Kimley-Horne. Chacko says the consultant team's also going to include "local sub-contractors" to test "Better Block-style" initiatives.

It's a "three-piece project," Chacko says -- a long-term vision, a design manual and ("last but not least"!) an implementation plan. Chacko says there'll be some "demonstration projects" that get done first, to get us all psyched up about the change coming to town, including a bunch more Better Block projects, of which he says he's a fan.

There's a simple timeline he's got on the board now: project launch next month, project completion in March 2012. Now it's to the council to have their say -- join me in the comments to hear more.
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Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Patrick First off I am really starting to get on board with a lot of the ideas you and the rest of these folks are bringing to the table.Bike lanes folks walking places .These are everyday things in other places I have visited .Hey I take my own bags to the grocery store.

One question, as informed and prepared as you are about what you do and the information you bring to the table How often will your I am being spoon fed BULL STUFF alarm go off in your mind during these meetings ?

Snookie Pie
Snookie Pie

It is strongly suggested that you mute that alarm while attending these meetings. Save the battery juice.

Ellum08
Ellum08

Was there any discussion about how many ordinances were 'broken' and how those 'broken' ordinances were going to be changed to allow for these 'Better Blocks' around the City?

All this type of stuff is groovy until it comes down to actually changing the development code, standards, zoning, what have you and realizing how much time, money, effort will go into doing so.

abuckley1970
abuckley1970

You said a mouthful! First the plans, then the code. It won't be an easy transition and it certainly won't happen quickly.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Nope -- lots of support from the committee for low-commitment trial runs of Robertsian projects, but the suits from city staff only vaguely suggested that, of course, the council would have to do something about the ordinances that stand in the way of "creative" solutions.

Brenda Marks
Brenda Marks

If she thinks Lemmon looks good, I'd hate to see what she thinks looks bad. Oak Lawn Committee has been trying for years to get the city behind a coordinated effort to upgrade and "beautify" (that's a relative term when it comes to Lemmon) Lemmon from Oak Lawn Avenue to Inwood, with absolutely zero help. She must be hanging out with Charlie Sheen these days.

Ellum08
Ellum08

The medians, landscaping, and revised sign ordinance have helped the appearance of Lemmon. Is it perfect? No, but it is much better than it used to be and a lot better than say, Garland Road.

Now if someone could fix all those f-ing potholes.

Brenda Marks
Brenda Marks

Ellum08 -- the only landscaping in the median was done between Turtle Creek and Oak Lawn, and that cost was picked up (I'm betting) by Turtle Creek Association. Medians between OL and Inwood havent been touched.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Sheffie Kadane closes things out, now that Koop's taken off, and as Roberts and Howard take off to great acclaim from their new councilman friends, we're adjourned!

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Jill Jordan tells Davis that, of course, there'll be "a lot of policy decisions" left to the council -- "a lot of homework."

Gonzales is back at the table to rein everyone in too, talking about how the city can safely build creativity into the city's plans, and "at least shorten that time where we can see things on the ground that'd demonstrate a few of these concepts."

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Davis suggests "a small area off of Malcolm X" where she'd like to see a Better Block. "I'm really ready to roll up my sleeve and make things happen," she says.

Thelisma Partridge
Thelisma Partridge

Is Jim's Car Wash on MLK in Davis's district? Oh, the possibilities....

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Roberts closes the presentation to great applause from the council, and Howard says he'd like to see Better Block projects built out as part of the city's West Dallas plan too, to temporarily give them approval to try new projects there. Roberts jumps in to ask for "a bureaucracy-free zone, even for like a month or two."

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Howard says they're "thrilled to be part of the complete streets initiative" now -- as informal consultants, I guess -- and that what's happening now as they advise other cities (Farmers Branch included), is that they're formalizing the Better Block model.

Roberts says there's some great Better Block potential in Davis' district -- "You should come work for me!" she fires back.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Roberts says they're working on planning a pair of Better Blocks in Houston right now.

The key with the planning for these, he says, is to "take an extra step and talk to the community and say, what do you feel is missing?"

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Next, he relates the genesis of the downtown Dallas Better Block in the Arts Districts, for which Roberts and crew brought in food trucks from Austin and put pianos in the street, as seen in London.

Roberts says they showed Dallas can have all these things they have in London, elsewhere in Europe or in U.S. coastal cities, but that people never expected to see here. "The reality is we just don't have the environment to do them," Robert says.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Roberts is on a roll up here, talking about the second Better Block, and how they helped people "celebrate the space, as opposed to just drive through it," using reclaimed materials to build decks and shades in late summer. "These businesses have had the best business days they've ever had in their existence."

Koop is all smiles as the slides keep rolling, and Davis is smitten with the street seating and trees, offering some polite applause.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Roberts begins by recounting how the Better Block Project began at Seventh and Tyler, while Jasso nods along. Roberts says he started off with the idea that it was an art installation, pointing out all the ordinances they were breaking along the way -- "all those ordinances have their place," Howard assures -- talking with folks about what businesses were missing there. Places for kids, coffee shops. "Let's build the businesses we wish we always had," Roberts recalls saying.

Roberts points out that Oil and Cotton, which is now a permanent business, started as a pop-up shop in that first Better Block, and says people were asking most of all how they could help mak that Better Block permanent.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Now to the Oak Cliffiest of the afternoon's agenda items -- in which the law-scoffing Better Block project finally stares down the long arm of the law, in the guise of these totally stoked council members. Before asking Jason Roberts and Andrew Howard to introduce themselves, Koop promises they've got "some really cool slides" in store for us today.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Natinsky wants to know about the money now -- is the $12 to $15 million proposed here just for the initial build-out, or are we committing to paying up lots more every year to maintain the trails?

Chacko assures him he's not really sure. That $12-15 million number is just, he says helpfully, the "quick and dirty thumb-rule cost."

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Jasso brings some tough talk on behalf of her constituents, looking at this page 17 map Davis pointed out -- "where's the connection to Oak Cliff?" she wants to know. Chacko assures her this one's just a zoom-in of the other maps for the rest of the city to show downtown at greater detail.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Davis wants to know if there'll be a cost to implementing the bike lanes and trails. O'Donnell tells her, yes, there will be costs. Painting new lanes, for one thing. "Phased implementation" is the way to keep it from pinching first.

"Are you thinking it'll be the blue first, and then the red and then the yellow?" O'Donnell says it'll be a combination, most likely, of all of them at once.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Folks, good news, as Jerry Allen has just joined us at the table -- he'd maintain the quorum now, whenever Koop has to catch her flight.

Better news: Davis is asking about the colored map of "context-sensitive" trail and lane recommendations on page 17.

Snookie Pie
Snookie Pie

Patrick, did you happen to notice whether or not Jerry Allen was carrying a small, grey bag with him. I understand he keeps his brain in there. Could make a difference.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Max Kalhammer (the real one, this time) says it's important to make it easy for people to spread out on the trails, to accomodate bikers and hikers both. Neumann suggests his solution for the Kiest trail, where they'll be widening the trail to 12 feet from 10.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Neumann wants to know what they're doing to plan for hikers as well as bikes, and Linda Koop jumps in to let everyone know she's got to leave soon, and please not to waste time before she has to catch a flight. (The committee, such as it is gathered here today, would lose its quorum if she has to leave.)

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Went in behind me and corrected an error in those last comments -- that was bike project manager Peter Lagerwey reading through the slideshow these last few minutes.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Now, the "potential economic benefits" slide, which you'd think would really get the committee revved up finally, though Carolyn Davis' eyelids are looking awfully heavy from here.

Lagerwey says bike infrastructure is the best investment in transportation a city can make, lengthening pavement life on the streets and helping to build stronger communities.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Lagerwey's showing the council some graphics that look like charts of mold growth in a Dallas-shaped petri dish, which he says are charting density of public transit stops, universities and "employment centers," which he says should guide the city as the bike paths and lanes go in.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Now, the greatest hits from the policy recommendations in the plan: establish a non-profit (like the parks foundation, he says) to fundraise for actually implementing the bike plan, and "routine accommodation" of the bike plan -- so that every time a street's widened or added on to, the construction includes room for bike lanes and paths.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Two options for laying down a bike lane, Lagerwey says: raised buffer between the lanes, or just a painted one. Paint-only, of course, is cheaper.

As council members stare intently at their own copies of the PowerPoint (or whatever), Lagerwey points out a few of the 72 different cross-sections of lane setups recommended in the bike plan.

Plus! New signs along the bike paths, pointing the way to the Katy Trail or other landmarks. Best of all there, the plan notably does not recommend using goofy mascots to point the way.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

"The vision: widespread use of bicycles," he reads off the screen, saying the plan is to build a viable biking culture. "You can have all the bike facilities in the world, but if you can't get across the freeway, you can't get acros the bridge, the rest doesn't matter."

The plan: 1,225 miles of "bicycle facilities," 700 miles of them on-street, the rest off, with a "seamless" transition between them.

Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

Patrick, before you leave -- ask Neumann how he enjoyed those Better Block events. Ask him what his favorite thing about 'em was. Ask him where they were.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

My money's on the finger-painting setup a couple years ago, but I'll try and confirm before we wrap up.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Lagerwey says they've surveyed the people of Dallas and amassed a database of over a thousand bike supporters -- and discovered that 60 percent of them want more bike lanes around the city.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

Further plans for the "drastic change" upon which we're embarking include a series of red, white and blue arrows on a chart about gathering community input, as senior planner and bike project manager Peter Lagerwey launches into his part of the show.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

On for another "major shift in approach," as Chacko called it -- the first new bike plan for the city since 1985. He says the new plan's meant "to be a regional template" for bike plans.

Chacko says one of the main ideas here is how to make biking "more broadly comfortable" -- beyond just getting a better seat.

Patrick Michels
Patrick Michels

"What I've heard today is what I've wanted to hear for the past two years," Jasso says to start things off, asking Chacko to guarantee her district gets its streets completed first.

But now Ann Margolin is here to rein Chacko back in, because how are we going to zone for drastic, sweeping change?

Chacko says it's a mix of private development and public development, but really... he doesn't know either.

In fact, Theresa O'Donnell says, "one of the interesting things about the Better Block project" is that it was totally illegal! And they had signs that said so!

Which is the approach I'll take next time I park in the fire lane outside City Hall.

A.C. Gonzales has jumped into the fray "we want to keep this as a mantra about we're really re-thinking" the way we plan for development and transportation.

Natinsky is coming in tough too, wanting to know how this is actually going to get done, not just sit on the shelf half-done. O'Donnell says she likes to use the example of Lemmon Avenue -- "In the '80s, Lemmon was a really kinda scary place," she says

Neumann wants to know about the "pushback" they've gotten for these awesome, forward-thinking ideas -- putting it up on a tee for Chacko. No pushback at all, Chacko says! Not yet, anyway!

Neumann also wants to know if O'Donnell can guarantee the area plans for the Trinity River Corridor Project will fall into the Complete Streets plan, to which she says emphatically, "....."

She nodded, though, which isn't quite good enough for Neumann. "I kinda wanted you to say that on the record," he tells her, and O'Donnell obliges.

Koop closes out Complete Streets -- "kind of a sea change for our city," she says -- and we're on to the bike plan!

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

Yikes! That zoning issue is the big one. O'Donnell never met a zoning use she couldn't make more intense.

Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

I know yer about to weigh in here, Patrick. But if Theresa O'Donnell thinks "Lemmon looks pretty good" these days, she clearly hasn't driven down Lemmon. Hard to see it while going bump-bump-bump down those potholes. Also: I like how Dave Neumann's all for this "forward-looking" proposal -- anyone else get the feeling he's gonna try to take credit for this?

Thelisma Partridge
Thelisma Partridge

Dave's taking credit for the Better Walmart Project.

With bike racks.

Brenda Marks
Brenda Marks

My post should have been a reply to yours. Sorry.

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